An unusual and fast-paced comedy. One of the hidden gems of Keaton's filmography.
Wealthy Rollo Treadway suddenly decides to propose to his neighbor across the street, Betsy O'Brien and sends his servant to book passage for a honeymoon sea cruise to Honolulu. When Betsy rejects his sudden offer, however, he decides to go on the trip anyway, boarding without delay that night. Because the pier number is partially covered, he ends up on the wrong ship, the Navigator, which Betsy's rich father has just sold to a small country at war.
While Keaton's Art Director Fred Gabourie was scouting shipyards in San Francisco for another project, The Sea Hawk, he was shown the former USAT Buford, a 5,000 ton, 500-foot ship that was being sold for scrap metal. Keaton immediately began planning a film centered around the Buford and had producer Joseph Schenck chart the boat for $25,000 with a crew and sail it to Los Angeles. Keaton renamed the ship Navigator and his crew began remodeling the interior, installing film lights, and painting it. Of the 60 person film crew about half were real sailors hired to handle the ship. Filming onboard the Navigator took 10 weeks.
When the film was released, Variety said, "Buster Keaton's comedy is spotty. That is to say, it's both commonplace and novel, with the latter sufficient to make the picture a laugh getter..." Variety also noted the novelty of Keaton's deep-sea diving costume and settings and praised "an abundance of funny business" in some of the film's underwater scenes.
More recently, film critic Dennis Schwartz wrote that the film "proved to be Keaton's biggest commercial success. Its theme of civilized man versus the machine (seen as making life difficult for the modern man because we have become so dependent on it and it's not always reliable), was never used more effectively in cinema." In 2018, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."
Of the 60 person film crew about half were real sailors hired to handle the ship. Filming onboard the Navigator took 10 weeks.
"The Navigator" allowed Brais González to combine in his score the traditional elements present in his compositions for slapstick comedies with other musical elements, such as sea songs, tribal music, and adventure film music from the 1950s.